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Doctors say Problems Still Plague Medical System in Iraq - 2004-09-27

Doctors in Baghdad say a year and a half after the fall of Saddam Hussein, a lack of high quality, reliable drugs continues to hamper their efforts to adequately treat their patients. Many are angry that they still can not get the drugs they need, but the government says help is on the way.

Doctors and other health care workers in Iraq have a long list of complaints. Many hospitals are in disrepair from years of neglect and from looting following last year's fall of the former government. Essential equipment is lacking. Many doctors and other health care providers have left the country out of fear for their lives or to find higher-paying jobs.

But the number one complaint among Iraq's health care providers is what they say is an inadequate supply of high quality, effective drugs and other medications.

"Medicines now on the market are very poor quality," said Dr. Iyad Guyb Mequid, a general surgeon who works at a private hospital in Baghdad. "They are Jordanian or Syrian or Egyptian or Indian. Thirty-years ago we used to bring [in drugs from] the best companies in the world, the best firms, you know, from America, Germany, British firms. Drugs that are really good, that are really having an effect on the patient.

"Now, I prescribe something to the patient and a couple of days or three days [later] nothing happened," continued Dr. Mequid. "It's true, because we don't [know] what's in these drugs, nobody knows. This should have been changed. Had it changed, believe me, this picture would be much different."

Dr. Meguid says now that Iraq is free, the country's health ministry should be free to negotiate contracts for medications with reputable drug manufacturers.

And according to Iraq's deputy health minister, Dr. Avirel Hoosieh, that is exactly with the interim government is doing. Dr. Hoosieh says is obtaining high quality drugs from countries such as the United States, France, Germany, Britain and Switzerland. However, he says it will take time for those drugs to become widely available because the core supply of drugs in Iraq was all but eliminated during last year's looting.

"There was a wave of stealing, of thieving and they evacuated the warehouses of drugs. And at that time it was very difficult to make contracts because there was no ministry of health. For at least five months there was no ministry of health. So, it was difficult to buy drugs. That's why it made a base shortage in these drugs. Now, we are compensating," said Dr. Hoosieh.

But the director of the Medical Institute of Baghdad, Dr. Fayek Amin Bekker, believes the problem should have been solved by now. He says thefts a year and a half ago are not the problem. He he says poor quality drugs have been imported, and there is not enough to go around.

"I don't believe it is very much the theft of drugs. Quality and quantity. Quality and quantity," he said. "You may get something, you may get nothing. And the rest of them [drugs] are not available. But, most of the things are deficient in quality, and then quantity."

The deputy health minister, Dr. Hooseih, acknowledged the overall quality of drugs in Iraq has been lowered, because he says medications with little or no value made by illegal companies flooded into the market following the fall of the previous regime. In an effort to improve the situation, the deputy minister says this year, the health ministry will spend close to $600 million for drugs and medical equipment.

Meanwhile, thousands of Iraqis are being affected by recent outbreaks of cholera, hepatitis E and other infectious diseases. They need to scramble to find drugs of questionable quality, and can only hope the medicines do what they are supposed to do, while they wait for the promised new supplies to arrive.